Few could argue with the concept of Teach for America when it was launched in 1990. Basically it was the Peace Corps for struggling school systems. They would recruit bright college students to be teachers, give them a dab of training and then send them off to work for two years in places like inner-city and rural schools where attracting good teachers is difficult.
TFA came to Alabama in 2011 billed as “salvation” for Black Belt schools. The legislature gave them $630,000 that year and they placed 32 teachers in six Black Belt school systems. These were Hale, Marengo, Sumter, Lowndes, and Perry counties and Selma city. The next year Butler and Greene counties joined.
In 2012 we had 53 TFA teachers in eight Black Belt.school systems. But that was the high water mark and two years later there were only 15 TFA teachers in west Alabama.
Today most of the Black Belt systems working with TFA have dropped by the wayside with only Perry and Hale counties and Selma city remaining. In the 2017-18 school year, of the 46 TFA teachers in Alabama, only 16 were in the Black Belt. Birmingham had 21.
Yet we continue to increase their annual appropriation from the Education Trust Fund. The current budget gives them $697,000 and the budget proposed by the state department of education for next year does the same.
Here’s how the program basically works: Each system using TFA pays from $3,000 to $5,000 per teacher annually for “training.” They also pay their salary of course. But since most of these teachers only hang around for two years, one has to question the wisdom of paying up to $10,000 to train a temporary worker.
What is the annual appropriation from the state used for? I have never been able to find out. Several years ago there was a joint meeting of the House and Senate education finance committees. I was there. A nice young lady with Alabama TFA tried to explain how they worked and what the state was getting for its money. Her presentation left more questions than answers.
And along with this we should consider that the IRS 990 form for Teach For America for 2016 (the most current available) shows the national organization had $420 million in assets and the average salary of the ten highest paid employees was $310,430 per year And they need money from the State of Alabama?
The teacher shortage is real, especially in the Black Belt. This is why I’ve been involved in starting the Black Belt Teacher Corps at the University of West Alabama where we are growing our own.
The question I would like answered is how many of the TFA teachers who were placed in our schools are still teaching? I suspect the answer is very few–if any. So are we just putting a few band aides on a problem that needs long term attention? And paying dearly to do so?